I recently had the privilege to Interview the great Aaron Long near the beginning of this year. Aaron is a Toronto based Animator, Director, and Mastermind behind the incredible Fester Fish WebSeries. And if you don’t know who Fester Fish is than you owe it to yourself to check out the show and learn more about it here. To quote what is written on the shows Facebook page, “The series is a throwback to the classic animation of the 1930s and 40s, with a slightly twisted modern edge.” Now without more ado I proudly present:
My Interview with Aaron Long
Q. So to start off what do you currently do to make a living?
A. I’m currently finishing up my final year at Max the Mutt Animation School. Despite the ridiculous name, it’s actually a good school with some fantastic teachers. I’m also doing freelance animation jobs on the side
Q. That’s pretty sweet. I’m assuming you want to work as an Animator full-time?
A. Yeah I want to do just animation, hopefully I’ll work in a Studio or just do Freelance Stuff.
Q. Is there anything unusual you do in your daily or weekly routine?
A. Other than making cartoons probably not. My school schedule is pretty crazy, it’s like a work schedule with 8 hours a day and it can be quite tiring. So I don’t really have much time to do other stuff. I have to focus on one thing at a time and I make Cartoons when I have ideas for them. And when I don’t I just watch TV and play videogames.
Q. Besides your teachers do you have anyone personal who’s a major mentor or influence to you?
A. Yes. There are a couple guys. One is Chuck Gammage who has his own Studio in Toronto. I did a Co-op Internship at his Studio in high school and it was really nice of him to even let me go there ’cause I was terrible at drawing at the time, and had no formal training. He has really high standards and is an amazing Animator. He took a chance on letting me come in and do some work for him and I really appreciate that. It all turned out good, he seemed to be happy with the stuff I was doing, which mostly wasn’t anything vital so I really couldn’t mess up things too badly. I would just color in the bits that someone else had already drawn so nothing big was really riding on my shoulders. I was just happy to be in a Studio environment for the first time. Also there’s this guy who used to teach at my School, Willy Ashworth, a great Mentor who taught me a lot about Drawing and working in the industry.
Q. Alright. Ready to talk about Fester now?
A. Sure yeah.
Q. Then let’s start with the basics. What’s the initial inspiration behind Fester and how did he evolve into his current form?
A. Well I started Animating with some other Cartoons but I realized that I was creating them in the wrong way for me. I was focusing on writing the Scripts first and that led to a lot of scenes where the characters would just stand around talking. So I knew for the next Cartoon I made I wanted to try a more original approach. And since I was actually doing all the Animating I wanted to make sure all the scenes were fun to Animate. So I started looking more at old theatrical cartoons from the 30’s and 40’s. Stuff like Looney Tunes, Tex Avery, Mickey Mouse, and the like. I began to create a character to make fun of the fact that all these cartoon animals didn’t really look like the animals they were. Mickey Mouse kinda looked like a mouse but there was this one, Flip the Frog, who didn’t look anything like a frog; he just kinda looked like a human with a weird face. There were a bunch of weird characters like that. They would just pick an animal at random and give it weird ears or something and say “Ok, this is the kind of animal it is!” and besides that it just sort of looks like everything else. So I pondered over what would be the stupidest animal you could make a character out of who did all this stuff like walking, singing, and talking. I figured an animal that can’t exist on land anyways and so I picked a fish. After that the design just sort of started to come together pretty quickly.
Q. Did you have any other ideas for other possible animals that just didn’t work as well or kinda fell flat?
A. No. Once I hit on fish I thought “Well this is going to be a funny idea if he’s nothing like a fish at all apart from having a fin on his head.” I liked the stupidity of that idea. Then I started to expand from there. I tried to have a simple idea at the core and build stuff around that.
Q. You said that before Fester you made some other Cartoons. Could you elaborate?
A. Yeah. I’d done other shorts but they weren’t that great. They’re actually still on my Youtube channel. I created a Series called Space Goose which was 3 episodes long before I gave up on it. It was basically about a bunch of animals in space.
Q. Is there any chance you might revisit that series at some point in the future?
A. Maybe. I liked making it but I just wasn’t that great at animating yet and I feel that if I were to go back to it now people would say “What is this? Why don’t you do more Fester?” So if I have more time in the future I would love to revisit it. It was a lot of fun.
Q. Cool. Now back to Fester; what is the process for making an episode?
A. Normally I start with a general idea or outline after that I create thumbnails on paper, which I don’t always make for the whole episode. Sometimes I just do a couple of scenes and go “Ok, I can skip this step now.” Then I go into the program Flash, draw a storyboard, and time it out so as I watch it’s like watching a rough version of the episode. Once I’m satisfied with that I just start picking scenes and Animating them. I plug the scenes into the storyboard so as I get further along it starts to look more and more like the final thing. Then I add the sounds, music, voices, etc. and that’s pretty much it.
Q. So you don’t write Scripts anymore at all?
A. The way I write Fester Fish is through the Storyboarding but I do end up writing a script for when I’m recording the voices. It’s easier to read a Script than to scroll through the whole Storyboard ’cause there’s a lot of panels without any lines and it ends up taking a long time.
Q. How long does this process typically take?
A. It varies but usually between 6-8 months. Actually it’s kinda odd as recently it seemed to take longer each time and then the most recent episode (Fester’s Christmas Fiasco) took only 3 weeks.
Q. Wow! Quite an improvement; how did you pull that one off?
A. I was on break from School. So suddenly I had as much time as I wanted to work on it and I wanted to finish it by Christmas. No one wants to watch a Christmas special on Boxing Day and after that you just have to wait ’til next year to release it. So I really wanted to get it done as soon as possible.
Q. Sounds rather intense. Were they any sacrifices or cutbacks to get it created so rapidly?
A. A little bit in the Animation but not too much. And also in the story. Normally I take longer to polish the story and make sure I’m satisfied with it. But with this one there are a couple of things about it where I said “I’m happy with this and I just gotta get started Animating it so I can get it done in time.”
Q. Well it was still very well done and both me and my sister especially loved the part when Fester commented on how long it must’ve taken to draw all the snow.
A. *Laughs* Thanks.
Q. Are you planning if you have more breaks in time to make more expedited episodes?
A. I’d like to. I enjoyed getting it done sooner. It felt more immediate. ‘Cause I feel like with a lot of the other ones they reflect more where I was at the start of the cartoon and then 6 months later by the time I’m done I feel like I would’ve done a lot of things differently if I were to start again. But with this one since I completed it in such a short amount of time I felt at the end that I still would’ve made it the same way.
Q. Awesome. So besides yourself who’s involved in the creation of a Fester Fish episode?
A. There’s the other Voice Actors. I do the voice of Fester. My younger sister Victoria does the voice of Fester’s girlfriend Blottie. She’s a film student and we’re really close. I’ve had her do many incidental parts in my cartoons. When I asked her to voice Blottie in the first short I don’t think she realized she was going to be a regular character in each episode, but she’s been a pretty good sport about it. Also a couple of my cousins do the voices of Poseidon, Slightly Smaller Fish, and stuff like that. And in the most recent episode I got a couple of my friends to help by painting some of the backgrounds. But they didn’t actually draw anything.
Q. Is all the coloring done on a computer?
A. Yeah, everything is drawn and colored on the computer using a drawing tablet. I use Photoshop to color in the backgrounds and I just color the characters in Flash. It’s all digital ’cause I find it a lot easier than having to draw it on paper and then scan it in just to be able to see if it looks good or not. Scanning takes a long time.
Q. What kind of drawing tablet do you use?
A. I’ve used a Wacom Intuos tablet since I started animating in Flash. I recommend them because they’re not that expensive, and they work well. That said, there is always a slight feeling of disconnect because you’re drawing on one surface but the image shows up on a separate one. Soon I want to upgrade to a Cintiq, which is a monitor you can draw onto directly. I got to use one during my internship and they just seem to give you a much more natural drawing experience. They cost a lot though, so it’s taking me a while to actually get one.
Q. Since you make this in your free time I assume there’s no budget and you just make it?
A. Pretty much yeah. The thing is it doesn’t really cost me anything either; just time I would otherwise spend not doing anything productive. I’m planning on starting a Kickstarter project for the next one and I’m probably going to keep the goal rather low since I’m not that well known yet. If I set a really high goal I probably wouldn’t get any money. It would be nice to get some money for it. I guess we’ll see how it goes.
Q. It says on Fester’s Facebook page that the show won a TAIS Showcase 2011 Audience Award. Could you tell me more about that?
A. The Toronto Animated Images Society (TAIS) has an annual showcase where they screen a bunch of shorts, and 2011 was the first year I submitted anything. At the end, the audience votes on their favorite cartoon and mine was selected, which was a huge honor considering how good some of the competition was. TAIS is a fantastic organization, and they are extremely supportive to artists, so I try to submit something to them every year.
Q. Okay, we’re nearing the end here. Do you have any advice you’d like to give to anyone else interested in making their own Cartoon?
A. Sure. I would just warn first that it’s pretty time consuming and it’s hard to just dip your feet into it. You really have to devote a lot of time to it. And I must stress the importance of learning how to draw if you want to do the actual Animation otherwise that’s not as important but you do have to find other people and pay them. If you want to be like me where you do most of the work yourself then yeah I suggest learning how to draw in general and as well as possible. Not specifically for cartoons but realistic drawings too. And then you’ll start to find it easier to do the Cartoon stuff if you already have that knowledge base.
Q. What tips do you have specifically that someone can use to help them learn to draw besides the obvious one of practicing a lot?
A. There are certain books which are pretty good. I recommend this one by Preston Blair called… Well I can’t recall the title but anything written by him is worth reading. The book is more aimed at traditional Looney Tunes style drawing but it’s really helpful in general and a very good place to start. Another book that’s aimed at more general Figure Drawing is by Glen Vilppu titled The Vilppu Drawing Manual it’s kind of a generic title but it’s also the best Figure Drawing book in my opinion. Those two books would be a great starting point but if you don’t want to learn how to draw as much then I would suggest just focusing on the Writing.
Q. Well that about wraps things up. Is there anything in particular you’d like to add or that you didn’t get the chance to mention?
A. Hmm… Maybe some plugs for my stuff I guess. *Laughs* I’ve got a website although it’s just a blog at the moment. I’m probably going to change the URL into something better eventually and change the site from a blog to a place where you can actually watch my Cartoons. If you just type my name on Google you’ll probably find most of my stuff. There’s not much else I can think of right now.
Q. One final question. Your favorite cartoon?
A. Gravity Falls is my favorite modern TV cartoon. I think it’s got a really sharp sense of humor.
Alright then. Thank you for your time.
No problem. Thanks for your interest in Interviewing me.
I would like to thank Aaron Long once again for his time. and if you feel there were any important questions left out please comment below and if Aaron doesn’t check them out I’ll let him know. Are there any other Indie Animators who you would like me to Interview? If so I’ll try contacting them; just let me know in the comments below.